Dissertation Abstracts

Freedom Betrayed: NGOs and the Challenges of Neoliberal Development in the Post-Apartheid Era

Author: Mueller-Hirth, Natascha , n.mueller-hirth@abdn.ac.uk
Department: Department of Sociology
University: Goldsmiths, University of London, United Kingdom
Supervisor: Professor Chetan Bhatt
Year of completion: 2010
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: South Africa , NGOs , neoliberalism , governmentality
Areas of Research: Social Transformations and Sociology of Development , Political Sociology , Political Sociology


This thesis explores transformations in South African NGOs in the Post-Apartheid era. It focuses on two areas in particular that are often neglected in the study of NGOs: auditing and partnerships are increasingly core activities of NGOs and impact their logic of operation and their location in wider civil society. In applying a governmentality framework to the neoliberalisation of development in South Africa, this research investigates how development provides a context for governmental technologies and what forms of NGOs these governmental technologies produce. A multi-method, multi-sited research strategy was employed that included in-depth interviews, observation research, and other ethnographic techniques.

South Africa’s democratic transition and subsequent funding crises gave birth to a new, more streamlined NGO model which can be characterised by flexibility, fluency in auditing techniques, and the ability to maintain multisectoral partnerships. Partnerships transform the activities and values of NGOs and provide a cross-sectoral context for the circulation of particular auditing technologies and types of expertise. Indeed, it is argued that the entanglement of NGOs in intersectoral spaces is not only heightened by the prevalence of the partnership agenda in global development and in the new South Africa’s reconciliation project, but that NGO activity very much produces these kinds of intermeshing spaces.

Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) is shown to be a key demand of partnerships, thus further reinforcing an audit culture. By acting as experts and translators of these apparently mundane techniques to other civil society organisations (CSOs), NGOs actively shape practices of development and may come to substitute for civil society. There is continuity between the partnership practices by which – contrary to their emancipatory claims – NGOs become more strategically and structurally embedded in the neoliberal order, and their own governing of CSOs such as the country’s strong social movements. It is contended that this is particularly dangerous given the vast developmental challenges facing South Africa and the deeply felt betrayal of freedom’s promises by the majority of the population.

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